The Google Transparency Report and India
| by Rohini Lakshane
Releasing the latest edition of the biennial Google Transparency Report, Google affirms, "one trend has become clear: Government surveillance is on the rise." The report encompasses statistics of requests made to Google by governments the world over to hand over information about users and to remove content present on the multitude of Google's services. The indicting statistics show the Indian government ranks third in requesting users' data since July 2009, when Google started indexing the requests. It was also the second snoopiest government in the world in the first half of this year. The requests for the removal of content made by agencies not authorised to make them indicate mounting surreptitious censorship.
We condense the Google Transparency Report further to see what it means for India. Though some statistics date back to July 2009 or later, we have considered the consolidated reporting period from July 2010 to July 2012 due to the category-wise break down of requests provided for this period. Google has delineated the statistics in terms of 'the number of requests' made and 'the number of items' for which requests were made. Correlating the two, it is visible that the government had identified many items under each request. Also, there may be multiple requests for removing the same item. Hence, some of the data could be discrepant on account of the nature of tracking and indexing requests.
Requests for user data
Google, with its infrastructure and slew of services, stores reams of personal and private information of its users, such as location data, IP addresses, emails and contacts. Google does not disclose how it uses the data on its files. From July 2009 to June 2012, Google received 10,455 requests to hand over data from 9,333 user accounts from various government agencies in India. Only the United States and Brazil made more requests in the same duration. The Indian government sent 2,319 applications to Google for obtaining information from 3,467 accounts for the latest reporting period (January to June 2012), making it second only to the United States in prying on user data. The 3,500-odd accounts are a minuscule number compared to the number of users of Google's services in India. Nevertheless, these figures are being seen as the thin edge of the wedge. Google clarifies that this data is not comprehensive, or exhaustive, and could be over-inclusive or under-inclusive in terms of the number of user accounts. Considering that governments around the world run their own machinery to mine data transferred over the Internet, these statistics, however hazy, bespeak an Orwellian story.
Over time, Google has been receiving more surveillance requests for users' data from governments the world over, but it is complying, fully or partially, with fewer of them. Nevertheless, Google complied with enough requests from January to June 2012 to rank India tenth in terms of the percentage of compliance.
The rising number of attempts to tap into Google's pool of user data is an indication of integrated surveillance that manifests itself in other forms such as the prolonged strife between the government and Research in Motion (RIM). The smartphone manufacturer finally set up a surveillance facility in Mumbai in October 2011 to enable the government to listen in on encrypted communication between BlackBerry devices.
Requests for removal of content from Google's services
The Index on Censorship report released in November this year at the Internet Governance Forum shines a light on the scale and modes of Internet censorship employed by governments worldwide. Governments attempt to censor web content covertly through means such as private entities (ISPs, blogging websites, web hosts, etc.) and sledgehammer legislation governing copyright. Google received requests for the removal of 1,618 items from government agencies in India from July 2009 to June 2012. At first glance, the data reveals that only a fraction of the removal was ordered by the judiciary. Most requests were sent by the executive and the police, despite the latter not being authorised to ask for the removal or blocking of online content, revealing attempts at extra-legal and unconstitutional censorship.
Requests sent by the Indian Government to Google across 4 reporting periods as per the Google Transparency Report
The 344 requests put together identified 1,493 items for removal, of which only 518 (34.7 percent) were ordered to be removed by the court. To break down the 1,493 items, the court had identified 24 percent of the items for removal citing privacy and security, 5 percent for defamation, and 5 percent for religious offence. It is pertinent to note that the 24 percent items categorised under 'privacy and security' translate to 360 search results that were removed between January and June 2012 in response to a single court order. Google reveals, "The search results linked to 360 web pages that contained adult videos that allegedly violated an individual's personal privacy."
Tags: Google Transparency Report , transparency , censorship , surveillance , Google , security , government surveillance , government censorship , online content removal , online content blocking , online censorship , criticism of government , privacy , Information Technology Act , Internet Governance , IT Act , defamation , DIT , Department of Information Technology , Research in Motion , RIM , integrated surveillance
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